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text-walking also textwalking or text walking

noun [uncountable]

walking along whilst texting from a mobile phone, especially when this makes you unaware of the people or things around you


noun [countable]


verb [intransitive] noun [countable]

'The brain's ability to take on several activities at once makes text-walking possible, researchers say, but it's a delicate balancing act. All it takes is one unexpected disruption to turn a text-walk into a garble-stumble …'

Denver Post 1st August 2008

'Akre also text-walks, but says of that activity: "It's a different thing. Once you put your hands into it, it's an entirely new distraction." Her advice for text-walkers? "Concentrate on peripheral vision. Pay attention. Look up at the crosswalks."'

Chicago Tribune 29th July 2008

If you're the sort of person for whom a mobile phone is a constant and indispensable companion, then there's the strong possibility that you have at some point been tempted to do a bit of text-walking. Walking through town, picking up the kids from school, crossing the college campus, all such activities give you a couple of precious minutes in which to send those all-important text messages. But watch out: the consequences of text-walking may be more serious than you'd expect.

it is only in recent months that people have begun to wake up to the dangers of using a mobile whilst moving around in other ways

Text-walking is now a recognised concept in US English, occurring in written form as a hyphenated, closed or open compound, and with related words text-walk (a verb or countable noun) and text-walker (a countable noun describing people who text-walk). The word hit the spotlight in the summer of 2008, when it emerged that the state of Illinois had proposed a bill banning the use of mobile phones while crossing the street. Under the new law, text-walking would be considered a criminal offence, carrying a $25 fine for perpetrators.

Though the dangers associated with using a hand-held mobile phone whilst driving have been recognised for some years now (in the UK, it has been a criminal offence since 2003), it is only in recent months that people have begun to wake up to the dangers of using a mobile whilst moving around in other ways. In July 2008, the American College of Emergency Physicians issued a warning about accidents caused by 'oblivious texters', reporting a rise in the number of serious injuries involving text-messaging pedestrians and cyclists. Sadly, the warning came too late for President Obama's aide Valerie Jarrett, who a few weeks earlier was said to have fallen off a Chicago kerb (and twisted her ankle) while her thumbs were flying on her Blackberry. On a more serious note, there have even been reports of fatalities caused by text-walking.

Background – from DWT to text-walking

Text-walking is a classic example of a new compound filling the gap in the lexicon for a concept emerging from the impact of new technology on daily life. On the same theme, there's also some evidence for use of the expression read-walking, referring to the practice of reading (the paper, a novel) whilst walking along – people who do this are correspondingly described as read-walkers. Both expressions seem to take inspiration from the established compound sleepwalking, which refers to the practice of walking around (and sometimes doing other things) whilst asleep.

In the same domain, another expression now used in US English is DWT, an abbreviation for driving while texting. This follows in the footsteps of the more informal DWY (driving while yakking), an earlier by-product of the mobile phone era.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 1st April 2009.

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